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WORLDS APART: Blacks and Whites React to Hurricane Katrina

  • Leonie Huddy (a1) and Stanley Feldman (a1)


Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that destroyed New Orleans, a major U.S. city, and it is reasonable to expect all Americans to react with sympathy and support for the disaster's victims and efforts to restore the city. From another vantage point, however, Hurricane Katrina can be seen more narrowly, as a disaster that disproportionately afflicted the poor Black inhabitants of New Orleans. Past research demonstrates a large racial divide in the support of issues with clear racial overtones, and we examine the possibility of a racial divide in reactions to Katrina using data from a national telephone survey of White and Black Americans. We find large racial differences in sympathy for the hurricane's victims, the adequacy of the federal government's response, and support for proposed solutions to mend hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, verifying the racial nature of the disaster. Blacks viewed the hurricane victims more positively than did Whites, drew a sharper distinction between and felt more sympathy for those stranded than for those who evacuated New Orleans, and were substantially more supportive of government efforts to improve the situation of hurricane victims and rebuild New Orleans. This racial gap is as large as any observed in recent polls; persists even after controlling for education, income, and other possible racial differences; and documents more fully differences that were hinted at in public opinion polls reported at the time of the disaster. We spell out the implications of this divide for racial divisions within U.S. politics more generally.


Corresponding author

Professor Leonie Huddy, Department of Political Science, S-727 Social and Behavioral Sciences, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4392. E-mail:


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This research was supported by Grants SES-030318800 and SES-0555068 from the National Science Foundation and a presidential award from the Russell Sage Foundation.



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